Saturday, April 2, 2016

Mount Bogong Twice, Alpine National Park - March 2016

Cairn Creek Hut.
Alright, with Easter upon us I started to consider what feral adventure I should set off on, the Grampians looked Ok, a beach walk was considered, but I finally decided to head back up to Victoria's highest mountain Mount Bogong. At 1986 metres the mountain is not that high by the standards of some countries that I've walked in, but by Australian standards its quite a challenge. I haven't walked on Mount Bogong for at least 15 years, but back in the early days of my walking career it was a bit of a favourite, its good tracks and rugged scenery made for a lot of memorable walks. On my trips up Mount Bogong I've climbed most of the more common ascent routes and a few of the less well trodden routes, so for my return to the mountain I decided to make it memorable and combine a couple of the more common routes, Staircase Spur and Eskdale Spur, along with some of the tougher less well used routes, Quartz Ridge, Granny Spur and Horse Ridge. With my almost pathological dislike of crowds I was lucky to be able to head off a day before Easter and thus hopefully avoid the worst of the crowds that would be swarming all over mountain come Good Friday. So after dinner with Sam on the Wednesday night before Easter I jumped in the car and headed up to the Mountain Creek Camp near Tawonga, arriving at around 1am the tent was soon up and I drifted off to sleep with the occasional passing shower drumming on the tent fly.
Heading up Mountain Creek Fire Track.
Day 1.     Cairn Creek Hut   21 km     1610 m ascent
Every walker needs a good breakfast when faced with a big day in front of them so I polished of my Macca's muffins and can of Mother with relish, suitably fortified I felt ready for whatever the day would throw at me. Unfortunately the day was a little grey and overcast but on the positive side the showers had more or less gone. Shouldering my pack I headed off, returning a couple of minutes later to to make sure that I'd locked the car, before heading off again, oh well at least it gets the stats up! The walk started off in a very civilised manor, a very gentle climb along the Mountain Creek Fire Track easing my ageing muscles into the task. Once meeting the start of the Staircase Spur Track the easy walking finished for awhile, Staircase Spur is a quick way up to the summit but it's a very solid climb, especially with a big pack trying to drag me backwards down the hill. Still, with a slow and steady pace I slowly made my way up through the bushfire regrowth, the views slowly opening up as I gained height. By the time I arrived at Bivouac Hut the forest was starting to change from Mountain Ash to Snow Gum's, the dead bleached white petrified branches looking like stubble on the surrounding spurs. The slightly dingy Bivouac Hut provided a good spot to stop for lunch, although I enjoyed my salami and cheese sitting outside rather than in the dark hut, its funny how you remember things but I don't remember Bivouac Hut being quite so small and dingy, I spent a night in the hut once on a winter trip up Bogong and my memories are of a basic warm and dry hut. With lunch finished I plodded on up to the summit, once the track leaves the tree line the views are extensive and even on this grey day I was stopping frequently to take it in, yeah the view and some air into my lungs at the same time!
Bivouac Hut, Staircase Spur.
Petrified Snow Gums near the tree line on Staircase Spur.
The Kiewa Valley from near the top of Staircase Spur.
By early afternoon I was at the summit cairn, dropping my pack it was nice to wander around unburdened and check out the view from the broad summit area for awhile. Eventually though it was time to start my long descent down to Cairn Creek Hut. First up I had an easy ramble across the broad summit ridge towards West Peak and Hooker Plateau, this walking above the tree line is probably my favourite type of country to walk through in general I reckon. Luckily the cloud, while low, was still above the summit level so I didn't have any navigational issues today which is handy, as after leaving the summit cairn the route becomes a lot more vague, no problem in good visibility but requiring constant attention in bad conditions. Making my way over the rolling ground I reached the top of Quartz Ridge and started my descent in earnest. Quartz Ridge is a stunning section of the walk and even on this grey day the constant views had me stopping frequently, the ridge itself is a bit of a roller coaster affair and the views are enhanced by the fact that, particularly on the higher sections the ridge is very acute, the ground dropping steeply into the valleys.
Mt Bogong.
Hooker Plateau in the foreground, West Peak in the background.
The upper reaches of Quartz Ridge.
Quartz Ridge is quite acute in spots.
As I dropped lower down Quartz Ridge the weather deteriorated a little and by the time I met up with my track down to Cairn Creek Hut I was playing the game of jacket on-jacket off, as the showers passed through. Some of the Snow Gums on Quartz Ridge have survived the bush fires so it was nice to walk past the occasional mature tree instead of the white skeletons. The pad down from Quartz Ridge to Cairn Creek can best be described as vague, there is a little flagging tape and the occasional track marker to help you stay on track but it still requires a bit of detective work watching out for signs of other walkers having come this way. The route sidles and then follows a spur for awhile before plunging off the side of the spur and dropping into the tiny remote valley that is home to Cairn Creek Hut. I stayed on course fairly easily, although the regrowth was thick as the route plunged down into the valley, however with the old hut beckoning me in the valley through the trees I abruptly lost the pad and had to bash my way the last couple of hundred metres to the hut, the hut taunting me all the way as I stumbled my way down the last few metres of the spur, swearing and cursing myself for not concentrating. Dropping my pack for the last time I opened the creaking door to the hut, hmmm. I quickly decided that the tent was going to be my best option tonight, the old Cairn Creek Hut, originally built for the SEC, is getting a little run down now and judging by the amount of rat poo its home to a few of the local critters. After a bit of a clean up it did provide me with a dry spot to relax and eat my dinner though.
The walking was about to get a lot rougher.

Descending to Cairn Creek Hut, if you look over my right shoulder you can see some of the yellow flagging tape that marked the route. I was pretty rooted tired by this stage of the day.
Pushing through scrub on the descent from Quartz Ridge to Cairn Creek, the trick along here is to find the spot where the route drops to the north east suddenly off the crest of the spur.
Cairn Creek Hut.
The hut provided a dry place to cook and eat dinner.
Day 2.   Cleve Cole Hut     9 km     30km total,           809 m ascent      2419 m ascent total.
Nine k for the day, sounds like a relaxing day on the trail doesn't it? Yeah...Nah! Actually this is a fairly tough day of walking, after a relaxing breakfast I packed up and headed up Granny Spur. With a name like Granny Spur you'd think it wouldn't be too bad, and indeed 25 years ago when I last climbed up here it wasn't overly tough, yeah there was scrub but there was also lots of clear openings between the thick scrub and it was sometimes possible to skirt around the worst belts of scrub. Around twenty metres after climbing out of Cairn Creek today though I met a solid wall of bush and that's what I would be pushing through for the next 4 or 5 hours with very little respite, only the types of scrub changed on the climb. Lower down the spur the scrub was particularly thick and prickly but as I climbed higher I got into some Mountain Ash regrowth, the softer flora being a little easier on my legs. The scrub did sometimes thin out a bit, yeah where all the dead trees from the bush fires have come down and knocked it down a bit. Now you'd think that would be a positive right, well actually the fallen trees were a pain in the arse, climbing over and around and even crawling under on one occasion the trees were more annoying than the scrub, to visualise it think of the children's game pick up sticks and then imagine a giant's game of pick up sticks, with the fallen trees being the sticks, well that's what its like climbing Granny Spur at the moment, not the easiest thing for a broken old bloke to negotiate.
The initial grassy scramble onto Granny Spur.
Cairn Creek Hut, that's Big River through the trees, Cairn Creek comes into Big River from the right at the base of Granny Spur.
Pushing through thick scrub down low on Granny Spur.
The Mountain Ash regrowth was a little softer to push through, although the fallen trees were a pain in the arse!

I had to resort to crawling underneath, pushing my pack in front of me in one spot.
Once up on Horse Ridge the Snow Gums took over, but pushing through belts of this Tea Tree knocked me around the most.
By the time Granny Spur morphed into Horse Ridge I was into Snow Gum country and I finally started to get a few decent grassy openings. When I finally got a view though the dead Snow Gums of the open tops ahead I decided that it was time for lunch, although the armies of ants meant that I didn't linger for long. Now I could see open ground above me but Horse Ridge had a bit of a sting in its tail, the scrub up through the Snow Gums was a type of Tea Tree and it was a bitch to push through, so much so that by the time I finally emerged swearing and cursing onto the grassy snow plain above I was not only covered in sweat and random samples of the local flora, but my knees were also covered in blood, yeah yeah I know I should of warm long pants, but hey I love the struggle. What looks like about 4 kilometres on my map clocked in at 6 kilometres on my GPS, and it had taken around 6 hours of sweat and toil, yeah a fairly hard days walking for me anyway. Once on the open tops of Horse Ridge though it was an easy climb up to the main Mount Bogong pole line near Tadgell Point, the occasional dark cloud scudding across the otherwise blue sky. Once on the pole line I had an easy descent down into the Snow Gums to Cleve Cole Hut, easily the most comfortable hut that I'd visit on this walk. Finding myself a quiet piece of grass a little away from the extremely busy hut (it was Good Friday), I kicked the boots off and enjoyed the remainder of the afternoon relaxing in the sun.
Taking my mind of the scrub bash for a couple minutes.
Hey, hey the end is in sight, that's Tadgell Point at the top of the hill.
Looking back down Horse Ridge into the scrubby abyss that I've spent 6 hours climbing out of.
All good now though, that's the main Mount Bogong Pole Line that I'm about to intersect with.
I'll sleep well tonight, camping near Cleve Cole Hut.
Sunset from my tent.
Day 3.  Mountain Creek Car Park  17 km  47 km total,     275 m ascent      2694 m ascent total.
After a rest full night in the sleeping bag I was up early today, the rising sun signally that it was time leave the tent a face the day. Today was the pick of the three days as far as the weather was concerned, a clear blue sky greeted me as I staggered to my feet and breakfast was frequently interrupted as I put down my porridge to take what I was positive would be another great sunrise photo, another case of ambition outweighing ability, but anyway.... Before 9 am I was climbing back up through the beautiful Snow Gums on my way to the summit again. The walk from Cleve Cole to the summit of Mount Bogong is arguably the most exposed sustained walking in Victoria, in all my previous visits I'd never walked across here in such benign conditions, with barely a zephyr of a breeze, clear sunny skies and the valleys to the east still blanketed in low cloud, the 4 kilometres or so across the tops to the summit was simply stunning today. Dropping my pack at the top of Eskdale Spur I wandered on another couple of hundred metres to the summit cairn. To be honest the cairn marks the highest point but broad summit isn't the most photogenic spot, you have to explore a bit to get an interesting shot, the approaches probably provide for more interesting photos I reckon.
Here's something that doesn't feature often on my blog, a sunrise.
Cleve Cole Hut.
Heading back up towards the summit, some of the Snow Gums survived around here probably because Cleve Cole Hut was water bombed in the fires.

That's the Bogong High Plains on the other side of the valley.
The scenery on the walk to the summit cairn was stunning this morning.
Anyway after bagging the summit again (Mt Bogong Twice) I headed back to the top of Eskdale and grabbed my pack. Like the upper sections of Staircase Spur, Eskdale Spur provides for some stunning walking. Apart from the initial plunge off the summit ridge the descent down Eskdale generally isn't as steep or sustained as Staircase, but it is a longer walk back to Mountain Creek. Once past the Granite Spur track I dropped below the tree line, the loose gravely surface quickly depositing me at Michell Hut where I decided that this would be a good spot for an early lunch. Sitting in the shade of a bushy Snow Gum eating the last of my salami and cheese I was amazed at the number of punters climbing the mountain, there was an almost constant stream of Lycra and red faces making their way up, the interesting thing was that very few appeared to have any gear with them, a lot not even carrying a day pack....hmmm what could possibly go wrong hey? Leaving Michell Hut I continued down Eskdale Spur, the track being a little more overgrown and eroded than the track up Staircase Spur but still being quite easy to walk, half way to Camp Creek Gap I passed over a small creek that sometimes provides a chance to re-fill the water bottles, just a small trickle today though. I was not mucking around now and soon the multitude of 4wd's parked at Camp Creek Gap came into view through the trees, this is the highest access point to Mount Bogong if you have a 4wd (it looks like the Granite Spur Track was blocked to 4wd's at Camp Creek Gap although you may be able to get in from the Omeo Highway side, if so that is the highest point you can drive to?) which probably explains all the Lycra clad walkers. After a steep plunge down a slippery ferny gully (I remember the ferns but don't remember the blackberries) the bush spat me out once more onto Mountain Creek Fire Track, all that was left was a gentle descent down the pleasant fire track back to the car. One and a bit hours, and numerous photo stops later I arrived back at the car at Mountain Creek Car Park, however I wasn't quite prepared for the numbers of people here, the large car park was overflowing with cars parked 100's of metres up and down both sides of Mountain Creek Road, I'd been imagining a nice quiet dip in the creek before my 5 hour drive home but on seeing so many people around I decided to get away as quick as possible, have I mentioned that I don't like crowds?
That's my descent route, Eskdale Spur.
Mount Buffalo from near the summit cairn of Mount Bogong.

Looking across to the upper section of Staircase Spur from Eskdale Spur.
Eskdale Spur.

The relatively new Michell Hut.
The Dirt.
So what's the dirt on this walk, well first up its hard...real hard, especially the climb up through the bushfire regrowth and fallen trees on Granny Spur and Horse Ridge. The track down to Cairn Creek from Quartz Ridge varies from a bushwalking pad to almost non existing scrub bash as well. Staircase Spur, Eskdale Spur and Quartz Ridge are all easy enough to follow in good weather but in bad conditions this place claims lives and so it shouldn't be under estimated, all routes are steep. Lack of water can also be an issue, unless you want to drop into the gully to the west of the start of Quartz Ridge (and then descend a long way in Autumn) then there is no running water from the start of Staircase Spur until you burst out of the scrub at Cairn Creek/Big River. There's no water on day 2 until you reach Cleve Cole Hut and on day 3 there was no good water until I rejoined Mountain Creek Fire Track below Camp Creek Gap, the small creek between Michell Hut and Camp Creek Gap was just a trickle. I used an old Bogong Alpine Area Vicmap and some track notes and mud maps out of  one of Tyrone Thomas' old 120 Walks in Victoria books, and along with my GPS maps I carried an PLB on this walk. It appears that the bush is slowly trying to fight back after the fires but I doubt that the Snow Gums and Mountain Ash will ever be back to their best in my lifetime, and I wonder with so much dense regrowth what will happen when we get the next fire. Still the high country of Victoria is still great place to walk, its changed greatly in the last 25 years but then so have I, I suppose! Now if you're a glutton for punishment I've written this walk up on one of my Crazy Guy Journals where there are some more photos and information if you want to check it out.
The pad down Eskdale was a little more overgrown and eroded in places than Staircase Spur.

Back on Mountain Creek Fire Track.

Some souvenirs from my climb up Granny Spur/Horse Ridge.

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